Arthur Oncken Lovejoy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Arthur Oncken Lovejoy (October 10, 1873, BerlinDecember 30, 1962, Baltimore) was an influential American philosopher and intellectual historian, who founded the field known as the history of ideas.

Lovejoy was born in Berlin, Germany while his father was doing medical research there. Eighteen months later, his mother committed suicide, whereupon his father gave up medicine and became a clergyman. Lovejoy studied philosophy, first at the University of California, then at Harvard under William James and Josiah Royce. In 1901, he resigned from his first job, at Stanford University, to protest the dismissal of a colleague who had offended a trustee. The President of Harvard then vetoed hiring Lovejoy on the grounds that he was a known troublemaker. Over the subsequent decade, he taught at Washington University, Columbia University, and the University of Missouri. He never married.

As a professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University from 1910 to 1938, Lovejoy founded and long presided over that university's History of Ideas Club, where many prominent and budding intellectual and social historians, as well as literary critics, gathered. In 1940, he founded the Journal of the History of Ideas. Lovejoy insisted that the history of ideas should focus on "unit ideas," single concepts (often with a one-word name), and study how unit ideas combine and recombine with each other over time.

In the domain of epistemology, Lovejoy is remembered for an influential critique of the pragmatic movement, especially in the essay Thirteen Pragmatisms.

Lovejoy was active in the public arena. He helped found the American Association of University Professors and the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. However, he qualified his belief in civil liberties to exclude overriding threats to a free system. At the height of the McCarthy Era (in the February 14, 1952 edition of the Journal of Philosophy) Lovejoy stated that, since it was a "matter of empirical fact" that membership in the Communist Party contributed "to the triumph of a world-wide organization" which was opposed to "freedom of inquiry, of opinion and of teaching," membership in the party constituted grounds for dismissal from academic positions. He also published numerous opinion pieces in the Baltimore press.

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